What can we learn from an ancient literary form about politics today?
Contemporary politicians and commentators constantly insist that we are living in “unprecedented” times, often pointing to this claim as an excuse for their own poor decisions and unwise leadership. This idea, however, is a delusion resulting from a lack of historical sensibility among our leaders. Human affairs have always obliged leaders to navigate new waters and make decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate data. Yet leaders of the past have succeeded in steering the ship of state safely through these dangers, partly thanks to their reliance on a once-popular literary genre of “Mirrors of Princes.”
Great leaders know that in times of crisis, it is wise to study—and steal—the practices of leaders past. In the literary genre of “Mirrors of Princes,” philosophers and statesmen explored the virtues of history’s greatest kings and generals as models for their own leaders. In this seminar, come study the best examples of the “Mirrors,” from Xenophon’s study of Cyrus the Great, to the contrasting visions in Machiavelli’s The Prince and St. Thomas More’s Utopia, to Charles de Gaulle’s reflections on leadership during the horrors of the 20th century. Leadership in dark times can feel like a lonely calling, but cultivating a true historical sense reminds us that in facing uncertainty with courage and conviction, we are not alone; rather, we are flanked by the greatest men and women of the past, and they are eager to share their wisdom.
All student attendees will receive copies of Statesmanship, edited by John Burtka IV, a reading list, and will receive travel stipends. All who fully participate in the weekend seminar will also receive a $100 honorarium.